My tutor at The Literacy Center, Dana Smith, showed me his vegetable garden: the snap beans, the Swiss chard, and the lettuces. He leaned over to pull some weeds, and I told him, “No! No! No! It’s not a weed. It’s a vegetable. It’s also good for herbal medicine.” Then I asked him let me pull them up so I could keep them for me. He laughed hard and said, “Have at it.” I did not know what he meant, but I think he meant I could pick them. At least, he didn’t stop me and let me pick them anyway. I brought them home, and I made a soup.
The weed was amaranth. He thought amaranth was a weed because he did not sow the seeds, but amaranth grows like a wild plant in the tropical areas with rich soils. I washed off all the dirt from the roots, cut them up as small pieces. I mashed a couple of shrimp and stirred them with olive oil, black pepper, and a green onion. Then I poured water in the pot and boiled them. When the liquid got boiling, I put all the amaranth in and add some salt for taste. It also have a simple way to cook as a steam vegetable and serves with fish sauces. Or I also fried them.
For this soup, I can eat it alone or serve it with steamed white rice. Amaranth is very rich nutrition. Instead of eating the red meat, we can eat the amaranth. That was the way my Dad told us when we had meals. With a big family of seven kids, my Dad and Mom could not afford a red meat because it was so expensive. But another side, it was a smart way for vegetarian. It has enough nutrition and easy way to get food because amaranth growth all over our gardens in highland Vietnam. It is good for body and skeletal systems. Also, if someone has diarrhea, they should not eat amaranth. Make it worse. Live a simple life!
Amaranth also has been known as not withering so it can be used as dried flowers. The flowers are beautiful. Its leaves are oval, hairy, and pointed at the tip. So amaranth can be used for food and nutrition because it tastes good. Also, it can be used to decorate because of the shapes and colors of the flowers.
When amaranth is immature, we can cook with all of the plant, but when it is mature and has flowers, we can use the leaves to cook but not the stems because they are stringy and hard to chew.
I learn how to use amaranth from my Dad. It would help a lot for health because amaranth stores big amounts of calcium and a lot of cellulose. It’s also good for balancing elimination. With amaranth, we can use all of the body, leaves, stalk, root, and even the seeds. It depends on what period of time of amaranth. When they are still young, we cooked them. When they turn old, we collect the seeds.
The way to collect them very interesting because their seeds are as tiny as grain of sand. When they dried out, outside of seeds have a stuff around to protect the seeds. Separating the seeds and stuffs, we pull them in the water and seeds heavier get down the bottom of water, the stuff softer and lighter then they floating on top of water. Just took them off, by the time we did it, we wash the seed, too. There are some dirty, or some kind of hairs of small insect stuck there. We wash them and dehydrate them. Ready for using.
Sometimes I also play with flowers of amaranth, too. It looks alike the elephant’s nose with all the movement and flexible for me. I also use it for decorated with mix boutique flowers. I had a good memory about my family and eating the weed for health.
I come back to my tutor for thank you because he let me pick them up and save a room for amaranth growth.
Tam Nguyen is a student at NAU and The Literacy Center. She recently spoke at NAU’s Global Learning Symposium where she won a competitive award. Dana Prom Smith edits Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared on May 19, 2012. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.